DIRECTORS: John Halas & Joy Batchelor
May contain spoilers!
“All animals are equal though some animals are more equal than others”
Louis de Rochemont, a producer I first became aware of with his 1958 Cinemiricle film Windjammer: The Voyage Of The Christian Radich, was given the task of producing this, the fist theatrical adaptation of George Orwell’s communist satire by none less than the C.I.A., as part of their offensive against the rising threat of Communism in the U.S. as the Cold War heated up during the 1950’s, but he opted to farm the work out to a London animation firm, Halas and Batchelor.
They went on to make the U.K.’s first theatrically released animated movie, no less than 17 years after Walt Disney’s Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs (1937), but better late than never! The plot follows the source book of the same name quite closely, slavishly you might say as it chronicles the uprising of Manor Farm’s animals over their oppressive and drunken master, Farmer Jones.
He is seen off within a few minutes only to drown his sorrows at the The Red Lion pub and the animals create a communist society within the farm’s boundaries. As the story progresses, they repel an attack by other farmers, open up trade with a greedy profiteer and see their society’s core values eroded by the corrupt “leaders”, the pigs, who, like the very man which this propaganda film is targeting, are ultimately lead by Napoleon, the Joseph Stalin of the farm.
He and his cohorts become richer and more corrupt whilst the rest toil to build grand symbols of their little republic, in this case, a windmill.
In the end though, this warning piece about the ultimate flaws of communism are decades ahead of its time as it foreshadows the eventual fall of The Soviet Union, even though it would not happen for another 35 years. Orwell got this one right, recognising the issues but also providing a strikingly poignant weapon to be used by Capitalists against their enemies, especially during this troubling time.
Propaganda this most certainly is but it also works as a timeless social satire, one which whether the players are the U.S. or U.S.S.R., the socialist ideals are never far way from our imaginations and this only highlights the dangers and flaws of such notions. All the best intentions in the world won’t protect us from evil, seductive men, a point raised in the narration towards the end in which it is said that “this could be a great and peaceful world but is isn’t now” to paraphrase just as the animals are about to revolt again, but this time, against their tyrannical leaders, the pigs.
This is a masterful adaptation of a masterpiece of literary satire. One which so compellingly takes us by the hand and leads us on a cynical journey though good ideals and notions of socialism only to snatch the hand away and leave us the mercy of the unfortunate truth. Communism, an ideal of equality like no other will have to have leaders and they will more than likely give in to temptations and allow their absolute power to corrupt, absolutely.
Animal Farm is not perfect, seemingly jumping from a mildly plausible animal vs. human set up to something more anthropomorphised by the end, in which the animals can perform tasks which are purely fantastical but it is not about that. It is a cartoon, a fantasy, a fable and then animals are simply allowing us to digest this in a different way, one which is much more compelling than yet another dry drama which would probably have been forgotten by now.
But because of Animal Farm’s use in schools as both a legitimate learning tool as well as an effective anti-communist propaganda weapon, it has become a treasured mainstay for so many adults today. Some would say that the animation is crude and should be forgiven as such but would disagree. I think that the film is great and the haunting music adds a real sense of tragic drama to proceedings, as the ever growing sense of doom is lavished upon the screen.
This has the benefit of being both a good film and a interesting piece of social and political history all rolled into one. A Technicolor time capsule of the war which began just days after The Second World War should have ended them all. But the war of words, gestures and idioligies was in its opening decade when the pig, Napoleon’s twisted efforts to take man’s place was unleashed upon Manor Farm, a farm would be known by the name given to by its new masters, Animal Farm.